It’s hard to believe that it’s already been 23 years since the pride of early 80’s Wolverhampton, Split Beaver rocked our cocks off with their one and only album, When Hell Won’t Have You. But with the 24th anniversary of the album coming up in a year or so, and no re-release with no bonus or live tracks in sight, it seemed like just the right time to look back at the best (and worst) the bad boys of Split Beaver left us with.
10. Levington Gardens (off “When Hell Won’t Have You”, 1982): One often hears of great musicians gathering on a stage or in a studio with no plan, no songs written, no lyrics scribbled down, no compositions arranged. And, yet, due to the innate level of skill assembled, plus the trust and faith in each musician’s abilities and talent, something magical happens. A drum beat leads to a bass line leads to a guitar riff leads to a chorus which becomes legend. Now think the exact opposite and you have the song “Levington Gardens.” The Shagg’s “My Pal Foot Foot” feels more rehearsed than this jumble of instruments, which sounds like four different musicians trying to play four different genres that just happen to be in the same key.
9. Going Straight (off “When Hell Won’t Have You”, 1982): The scene: Wolverhampton, England during the winter of 1981. It was a city on edge, the unfettered rage and subsequent unrest of the Handsworth riots in nearby Birmingham still fresh in the locals’ minds. Throughout Thatcher’s England, 3 million were unemployed, many of them young, able men who, without any sign of hope, resorted to random violence and mayhem. “Going Straight” may have been about that, but the unintelligible mumblings of lead singer Darrel “Savage” Whitehouse make it impossible to tell.
8. Get Out, Stay Out (off “When Hell Won’t Have You”, 1982): Listening to 70’s and early 80’s “hard rock” these days is kind of like watching those old episodes of Red Shoe Diaries that gave you such a boner when you caught a peak at them during puberty. At the time, they were pretty raunchy, but that’s because, a) you didn’t know better, and b) because shit was going to get progressively much, much dirtier. “Get Out, Stay Out” is a perfect example. The plodding, go-nowhere rhythms, accompanied by Whitehouse’s sneering voice and a random Blue Oyster Cult-inspired cow bell, may have felt gritty in 1982. But today it plays more like pre-teen whining during a talent show at a special school for kids with no imaginations.
7. Crusin (off “When Hell Won’t Have You”, 1982): I imagine that one night, in the basement of one of the band member’s parent’s place, having drunk all the Pimm’s they’d just stolen from the old man upstairs, the boys of Split Beaver were listening to old records for inspiration and came across Led Zeppelin’s first album. As usual, they all rock out to “Good Times, Bad Times,” then nod their heads and air guitar their way through “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You,” before guitarist Mike “The Bike” Hoppett lifts the needle off the record to get to “Dazed and Confused.” Briefly coming out of a haze, bass player Alan “Hun” Reese asks why they always skip that third song. “Because it’s boring,” Hoppett replies. “Nothing fucking happens! Here I’ll show you.” That night, they listen to “You Shook Me” for the very first time and decide, fuck it, sounds easy enough, let’s do one like that. To this day, none of the band members have any idea what the blues are.
6. The Bailiff (off “When Hell Won’t Have You”, 1982): You’re on the final cut of the album “When Hell Won’t Have You,” and you think, OK, one more shot, Split Beaver, give me what you got. And then, hey! Wait a second. Something here sounds like a song. A little loud, a little dirty, and sure, it’s something Van Halen had been doing for the past 6 years, but hey, it sounded OK. You wonder what it’s going to be about. Strippers, partying, partying with strippers. And just when you’re 98% sure you’re going to hear David Lee Roth yelp and howl, Hoppett chimes in with something about a bailiff coming to take your things away because all you want to do is rock and roll. Quickly realizing the lyrics are dumb and that they had something good at the beginning of the song, the band returns to the intro again and again, to the point where you can sense that their producer is sitting behind the boards re-enacting that movie scene where he’s frantically motioning them to keep playing because the headliner is stuck in traffic. What we’re left with is the same song basically played three times, most likely because an LP required 42 minutes of music and they didn’t have any other songs.
5. Savage (off “When Hell Won’t Have You”, 1982): The intro sounds like the riff the guy at Guitar Center plays just to show you that he’s only here to earn a few paychecks before his band, Kocktale Sauze, makes it huge. From there, it’s a Kiss-inspired kiddie rollercoaster that uses the term “rock n’ roll” as a verb, noun, adjective, conjunction, gerund, and anything else. Somewhere in there, they say “savage” a few times and thus the name of the song.
4. Living In And Out (off “When Hell Won’t Have You”, 1982): “We should do something slower, you know, something so when we do rock, it feels ever harder than usual. A little like Sabbath’s “Under The Sun,” plus some Deep Purple “When A Blind Man Cries. You know, slow, but still metal.” “So what you’re saying is, you want something you can play for your mom?” “Yeah, sorry mates. Just one though, I promise.”
3. Gimme Head (off “When Hell Won’t Have You”, 1982): It’s a song about blow jobs. And while the chorus is a proud chant inviting such a task, it is the break at the three-quarter mark in the song that adds a nice spin to the otherwise straightforward, subtle-less frat boy anthem. Here, lead singer Whitehouse begins a curious mid-song Q&A with the rest of the band, in which he poses what sounds like the question “Hey, Mick (drummer Mick “Raven” Dunn) do you give good head?” To which he replies in a Cookie Monster-ish growl “Yeah, you bet!” The rest of the band then answers that they, too, give good head. At the end of which, as if to re-establish their metal masculinity, they all join Whitehouse is chanting they all now want head. Pick a side boys, pick a side.
2. Likewise (off “When Hell Won’t Have You”, 1982): On the night before the recording starts, the band is at the local pub, getting properly soused. Guitarist Mike “The Bike” Hoppet slams his beer down and points his finger at the rest of the band. “I want my own ‘Eruption.’ I can shred just as good as Eddie Van Halen, probably better. I just need some space to show off my skills.” Inspired, bassist Alan pushes his stool away from the bar, and slurs “Likewise!” Then drummer Mick “Raven” Dunn follows with his own demand. “Likewise!” The next day, the only person that remembers the conversation is Hoppett, who gets 30 seconds at the beginning of the, at-the-time lyric-less song. Lead singer Whitehouse mocks the other two by repeating the phrase “Likewise” throughout the song despite it making no sense with the rest of the lyrics he improvises.
1. Hounds of Hell (off “When Hell Won’t Have You”, 1982): Sometimes when you watch a horserace, you’ll see a pony come out of the gates hard and fast and pull way ahead of all the others. It’s beautiful and powerful, seeing the sheer determination in the eyes of this horse, all the training and hard work finally paying off. But then around halfway, the horse realizes that he’s not going as fast anymore. The other horses are catching up, and he wonders maybe, just maybe, he didn’t train as much as he should have. Maybe he shouldn’t have stayed out all those nights with the mares when he should have been getting a good night sleep. Maybe he shouldn’t have eaten so much or drank so much, then pretending he was too hurt to practice when, in truth, he was just hung over. And as all the other horses pass him and finish with a flourish, the cramps and dehydration set in, causing an ankle twist, then a break, and a collapse 100 yards from the finish line. The only option is to put the horse down, right on the track, leaving everyone to wonder, if only he’d had more focus, more love of the process, more respect for his peers. But then, BLAM! It’s done.